In the months after Hilary Kelsay and her husband Brett adopted a young Rhodesian ridgeback, she spent $1,000 on dog toys.
That spending was out of necessity rather than indulgence.
“I’m buying a lot of dog toys to entertain her,” Kelsay said, but “within minutes the toys would just be destroyed.”
After Penny got a hold of one of Brett Kelsay’s old leather shoes, she hatched the idea to develop her own near-indestructible dog toy.
Hilary Kelsay is now on the verge of bringing Penny’s Loafer, which will be manufactured in Richland, to market. She still needs investors to help pay for the initial production run, but she’s not sweating that detail.
“As an entrepreneur, to only have this barrier is nothing,” she said.
Penny is the Kelsays’ first dog, and she’s is no ordinary Rhodesian ridgeback. She weighs 90 pounds, about 20 pounds more than a typical female of the breed.
She has the energy level to match.
Kelsay tried almost every variety of dog toy, particularly those marketed as indestructible, to keep Penny occupied outside of regular walks and runs. She ended up throwing most away after a few hours, and the ones she’s held on to have numerous rips and tears or are in small pieces, creating choking hazards.
I’m buying a lot of dog toys to entertain her” but “within minutes the toys would just be destroyed. Hilary Kelsay, owner Penny’s Loafer
Her husband, frustrated at the money being spent to keep Penny entertained, told his wife no more, that they had to figure out another solution.
Kelsay, an Oregon native who holds a business degree from Tulane University, said that led her to make simple toys out of her husband’s old clothes. But it was when Penny started gnawing on the old shoe that she began coming up with a design for Penny’s Loafer.
The toy resembles a shoe tree, the wooden device put in dress leather shoes to help them keep their shape. It has holes on either side through which jerky or rawhide twine can be threaded. At what would be the heel end is a removable plush piece that can also contain a squeaker if desired.
The plush piece is tied to a section that screws into the main part of the toy and, when removed, opens access to a cavity to hide treats. The toy also floats and can be used to help train retrieving dogs in water.
“I knew it had to be indestructible, but ridgebacks are intelligent, so I knew it had to have multiple components,” Kelsay said.
She plans to sell the toy for $29.99, but she’s still is working to determine how much she’ll charge for replacements of the less durable plush attachment and the jerky string. Hundreds have already pre-ordered the toy through the Penny’s Loafer website.
Kelsay worked with Ken Williams at Plastic Injection Molding in Richland on the prototype. Though Williams eventually sent Kelsay to a Spokane manufacturer, he did modeling work for the product and helped resolve some of the problems it could face in mass production, specifically the need for it to be hollow. The Richland company typically doesn’t do small production runs or prototypes.
“It doesn’t seem it would be a big difficulty but it was something we had to work on,” he said.
Kelsay says the Spokane manufacturer’s prototype is a winner after trying it out with Penny and her friends’ pets.
I think it has some unique features. It will all come down to how they market it. Ken Williams, Plastic Injection Molding
But to move any further ahead, including having the final mold manufactured to begin production at Williams’ factory, Kelsay needs investors. She said she couldn’t disclose how much is needed but it’s more than the average person has in savings and vendors are requiring cash. She’s hesitant to launch a crowdfunding campaign because not enough people are aware of it yet to raise the money needed. That’s leading her to search for angel investors or a small group of people willing to provide the money needed.
She’s still planning to have the toy on the market in June or July. She’s spoken with some local veterinarians and pet supply shops about carrying it and she’s confident she’ll be able to sell out her initial inventory. That will pay for the next round of production and could help finance development of similar toys for medium- and small-sized dogs.
“Then we’re rolling,” she said.
Williams said that he’s familiar with the challenges of getting Penny’s Loafer to the public. It’s difficult to get products to consumers when a business doesn’t have a built-in distributor, like a major national store chain.
But Penny’s Loafer is pretty nifty, he said, noting he spends plenty of his own money on his two pugs. And like Penny, he knows Kelsay isn’t going to back down from her goal.
“She’s been persistent and tenacious,” he said.